In Africa, exclusion, prejudice and discrimination remain common experiences for millions of people with disabilities. Poverty, malnutrition, low school enrollment rates for children with disabilities, inadequate or inaccessible health care, and lower employment rates are shared features of the daily lives of persons with disabilities. Fragile states, post-conflict countries and natural disasters often exacerbate the conditions in which people with disabilities exist. As do negative cultural beliefs about disabilities and attitudes toward persons with disabilities which remain very real and deeply entrenched.
Despite these physical, structural and attitudinal barriers, we are beginning to make progress. The past 15 years, have witnessed some major achievements. Perhaps the most important is the supplanting of the medical model of disability by the social model. The social model conceptualises disability as arising from the interaction of a person’s functional status with their physical, cultural and policy environments. This in my view impelled the development of and the entry into force of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It has bolstered an unprecedented growth of Disabled People’s Organisations throughout the Continent. It has also increased political space for persons with disabilities evidenced by an increasing number of Disabled African Parliamentarians and finally it has wedged its way into constitutional and legislative frameworks recognising the rights of persons with disabilities.
Creating an enabling environment, with good laws, inclusive development policy and practice means understanding inequality in a complex way, and developing ways of working which acknowledge difference, rather than suppressing it. It means practicing as we preach, by transforming our own perceptions and stepping out of our comfort zones. This entails confronting issues of power, culture and inequality, acknowledging that disability is part of the human condition, and planning for more inclusive societies. Each one of us lives life as a carrier of multiple identities – including disability, race, gender, class and age. All these add up to determine our opportunities in life, to empower or disempower us, depending on our context. This book through the various chapters focuses on the implications that this has for disability, development and human rights.